Understanding The Panama Pensionado Visa Requirements

Panama Pensionado Visa RequirementsBy far the most popular residency visa, Panama’s Pensionado Visa is a good deal. Geared for US retirees, it makes permanent residency easy. However, for the citizens of some countries, the fine print could be a problem.

What’s in a name? I suppose the first thing to clear up is that you do not have to be a pensioner, in the traditional sense of the word, to be able to apply for this visa. Any person over the age of 18 can apply for a Pensionado Visa!

Panama is not the only country in the world that caters for retirees. However, with the largest economy and one of the top 15 richest countries on their doorstep, it is understandable that such a visa exists. Retirees benefit in terms of lower cost of living and a desirable climate, while Panama wins in terms of an inflow of money.

In general, citizens from countries with strong social security or pension structure, find the Pensionado Visa an easy option. Citizens from some other countries might find it somewhere between difficult and impossible.

Benefits of the Pensionado Visa

One of the biggest benefits of this visa is that an applicant does not have to make a lump sum deposit into a Panama bank account prior to application.

A second benefit and quite an attractive one at that is the list of discounts available to holders of the Pensionado Visa. Here is a short overview:

DiscountItem / Service
Once-offduty exemption for importing household goods to a value of $10,000
Bi-annualduty exemption for importing a new car
50% offentertainment anywhere in the country (movies, concerts, sports)
off hotel stays from Monday through Thursday
reduction in closing costs for home loans
30% offbus, boat, and train fares
off hotel stays from Friday through Sunday
25% offairline tickets
at restaurants
discounts on utility bills
20% offmedical consultations
professional and technical services
15% offat fast-food restaurants
hospital bills (if no insurance applies)
off dental and eye exams
10% offprescription medicines
1% less onhome mortgages for homes used for personal residence

An interesting fact about Panama is that permanent residents and citizens of retirement age (55 for women and 60 for men) qualify for most of these discounts anyway.

Some vendors will not give a discount automatically. Sometimes you have to ask for it, so learn the Spanish phrase: “Por favour, deme mi descuento de pensionado.”  Even then, receiving the discount is not certain, and picking a fight about it is not worth it.

Another noteworthy benefit of the Pensionado Visa is the government fee structure. There are no immigration or repatriation fees payable, you only pay for the multi-entry visa!
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Summary of the basic requirements

The basis of the Pensionado Visa is a lifetime annuity income. There are two different options to consider:

Option 1 – Annuity only

A lifetime monthly annuity income of at least $1,000 received by the main applicant, or in the case of a married couple, their combined income.

Option 2 – Annuity and real estate

A lifetime monthly annuity income of at least $750 plus the purchase of real estate of at least $100,000.

These two options clearly demonstrate the basis of the visa. Please be aware that there are many more requirements; I discuss those in detail in the Panama Residency Guide.

The fine print regarding annuity income

We need to clarify the use of the phrase “pension”. In terms of the Pensionado Visa, the income need not be a pension per se or a pension in the traditional sense of the word. It can be an annuity income earned from investments.

This is the part where United States and Canadian citizens, have it easier than most because Panama’s immigration authority is familiar with their social security and pension documentation.

In order to point out what the challenge may be, we first need to look at the exact regulations regarding pensions.

If the pension is paid by a government/government institution/social security:

  • A letter from the respective institution that certifies that the applicant receives a pension for life of at least $1,000 per month.

If the pension is paid by a private institution:

  • A letter from the institution certifying that the applicant receives a pension for life of at least $1,000 per month;
  • Certification of the existence of the institution and that it is in good standing with its government;
  • Proof of payment of the monthly pension (typically by way of bank statement).

The words that are underlined must appear in the letter.

Visa requirements

What is the problem?

Applicants may face one or more, of the following three potential problems:

Problem #1: Income from a government pension

If the government or country in question has a soft currency, it might be unable or unwilling to express the income in US$, or immigration might reject the letter.

Problem #2: Income from a private pension

If the institution is from a country with a soft currency, or investments are held as such, it might be unable or unwilling to state the income in US$.

Problem #3: Income from private investments

Many people live off their own “pensions”, which is in essence annuity income from private investments. The first hurdle is that some fund managers would not qualify to issue the required letter. Mutual funds, trusts, banks or insurance companies, which are properly licensed, would qualify.

The next hurdle is the question of a lifetime annuity. Even though the relevant institution might be able to state an income in US$, some might not be able to state that the income is “for life”, as required by immigration.

That is a summary of the problems that some applicants may encounter. It must, however, be seen in perspective. The vast majority of applicants have nothing to worry about; it is a relatively small number of applicants that should be aware of these challenges.

As always, forewarned is forearmed.

What is the alternative?

The most common alternative to the Pensionado Visa is the Friendly Nations Visa.

It has a completely different set of requirements and is more expensive to obtain. Nevertheless, for many people, it remains the best alternative to secure permanent residency in Panama.

There are other alternatives, but they have a number of disadvantages not applicable to the Pensionado or Friendly Nations Visas.

Pensionado visa

Is there a difference in the process?

Apart from the upfront documentation required, the process to obtain a Friendly Nations Visa is very similar to that of the Pensionado Visa.

Suggestion: if you suspect that your application for a Panama Pensionado Visa will encounter one or more of the problems discussed, rather liaise with a good immigration lawyer beforehand. Do it long before your planned relocation to avoid wasting time and money on unnecessary or incorrect documentation.

Important note: The real estate mentioned earlier, in Option 2, must be registered in the applicant’s personal name, not a corporation or foundation.

“Education is when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get if you don’t” – Pete Seeger

I would love to have your thoughts on this specific visa or the issues regarding confirmation letters.

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Understanding the Panama Pensionado Visa requirements

Sold everything, became minimalist. Retired early, in Hispanic America. Helping others do the same. This free guide will help you plan your relocation. Do you have a question?

4 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t know how old this article is but we were just told that a lifetime annuity is NOT acceptable. Income must be from Social Security or a pension. We were told a married couple must have at least $1250 monthly guaranteed income from SS and/or a pension. Was told a Friendly Nations Visa costs approximately $3000 which includes setting up a corporation, lawyer fees & government fees. Not sure the cost of obtaining a Pensionata Visa. Still trying to find that out.

    • Hi Debbie, It might be worth your while to get another opinion, maybe contact a different immigration lawyer for his/her insights. You mentioned that a pension is acceptable – a pension is just a form of annuity. Lifetime annuities are acceptable, but the point I was trying to make in the post, is that annuities other than social security or government pension funds, can potentially be difficult to work with. Suffice to say that people have successfully used annuities from trusts before. Sometimes lawyers shy away from these because it creates additional work for them.

      Regarding the amount, the additional $250 is added for each dependent, not the spouse. And as for the Friendly Nations Visa, I doubt very much that you can complete the process for $3,000. The first cost item would be the corporation, which is normally between $1,000 and $1,700 depending on the firm you use, and the added services required.

      The only advice I can give at this point is to study information carefully because there are many rules, conditions and requirements that collectively make up a visa’s requirements. You might want to read this guide: https://travelhippi.com/panama-immigration-residency-guide/

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